event marketing technology

Does this sound familiar: you exhibit at a trade show and collect a bunch of business cards or contact information from potential customers. After the show, you follow up with each of these “leads” but aren’t able to make a sale! You’re frustrated but it’s time for the next show and you do it all over again!

In this article, I’m going to discuss some do’s and don’ts for overcoming this by starting conversations at your booth, focusing on building long-term relationships, and continuing the conversation after the trade show has ended using trust-based selling techniques.

Note: The below is a paraphrased summary from an interview with Charles Green (author of the books “Trusted Advisor” and “Trust-Based Selling”) to David Wogan from QuickTapSurvey.

1. Don’t show up to a trade show unprepared for follow-up communications

Do create some follow-up resources before exhibiting at a trade show

Before attending a trade show, identify who will be in attendance and build some educational content focused on addressing their needs and pains, which can be sent to potential leads after the show.

“Hold on a second David, I don’t have time to build any resources!”

A follow-up resource doesn’t have to be a heavy piece of content. It can be a promotional brochure, a blog post, or a simple email from an expert answering a question identified during the initial conversation at the booth: More on this later in point #5.

2. Don’t focus entirely on converting leads

Do focus your team to start conversations to build trust

Yes, I understand that you need leads, but they will come later after you first focus on genuinely helping people and building trust.Your trade booth representatives need to be curious and intrigued to learn more about every visitor. You wouldn’t ask someone to marry you on a first date, so why do this at a trade show.

3. Don’t count the amount of business cards you have

Do create a memorable booth conversation

Generally speaking, most companies that exhibit at trade shows are there for one reason: to capture lead information. Okay, let’s face it, that’s why you’re there too. But, how do you expect anybody to remember you if everybody else’s objective is to capture leads?

Our objectives affect our behavior. In order to stand out, reverse this objective from “How many business cards do I have?” to “How can I help anybody who visits my booth?”

People won’t necessarily remember a sales pitch, but they will remember a good conversation they had that focused on their issues. Be genuinely interested in talking about the other person’s concerns. Your goal should not be to convert every visitor, but to help every visitor.

4. Don’t have a scripted conversation

Do show genuine interest to learn about each visitor

Imagine your brother-in-law is asking you for business advice at a family event. You wouldn’t be trying to convert him as a sales lead. Instead, you’d be willing to give the best possible advice to help him succeed. This exchange shouldn’t be any different in a trade show setting: be the helpful “brother-in-law” to your trade show booth visitors. Don’t be too goal focused when conversing, just be interested to help.

If you are afraid of looking like a fool for asking a potential lead a question, just remember this Chinese proverb: “A person who asks a question is a fool for 5 minutes, but a person who asks no questions is a fool forever.”

Here is a guideline to have a memorable conversation:

  • Let’s say you are exhibiting for an air conditioning manufacturer. When somebody approaches your booth, they are obviously interested in air conditioning units. Start a dialogue by asking an open ended probing question about their business, such as: “What do you think is the bigger problem: the quality of the air conditioning or the cost of the service?” This question will also help determine if they are a qualified or unqualified lead without them even knowing.
  • Give some stat about their response, such as: “Oh, well more than half of people agree with you.”
  • Conclude with something like: “Obviously, this is a very interesting issue for you, why don’t you type your contact details into this tablet and we’ll send you more information.”

Notice a few things: Firstly, I left the dialogue open to discuss a possible issue that they may be experiencing. Secondly, I listened to what they said and gave a relevant response to the information they provided to me. And thirdly, the goal of the dialogue was not to obtain their contact details, but rather discuss an issue of relevance to them. Collecting contact information this way is very different than winning something in a contest or offering something that has nothing to do with addressing their problems.

5. Don’t follow-up with a standard “Nice to meet you” email

Do follow-up with additional resources to HELP those you met

The whole idea behind trust-based selling is that the customer talks and you keep on being curious about what their issues are. During or after the conversation, try to capture the essence of the conversation. You can do this by jotting down notes on the back of a business card, or by using a data capture app. If you are collecting contact details on a data capture app, add a notes question so you can freely type the issues raised in the conversation as a basis for a sales rep to follow-up with.

Establishing trust will get a prospect more interested in what you have to say and will get them more likely to convert as a customer later down the line.

Follow-up either with an email or phone call saying something like:

Hi [First Name],

It was great connecting with you at [Event] and thanks for your interest in our booth. It was very interesting chatting with you about what it’s like to work in a basement. Here are a few resources to help you learn more about the types of air conditioning units: [Insert links to resources]. I would love to connect with you again sometime this week. Are you available for a quick phone call tomorrow or Thursday?

In conclusion

What you may be thinking after reading this:

“That all sounds great, but I really don’t have the time”

Don’t dismiss people if they don’t immediately qualify as a lead. Instead, think about building long-term relationships. Be helpful and have a conversation with all booth visitors, and follow-up with useful content relating to the conversation. Ask the right questions to determine whether a person is a qualified lead, after which you can spend more time with them. Nothing turns people off more than you rushing through some scripted dialogue. If you invest a little time up front to improve a relationship, the payoff from then on is huge.

“My industry is very technical and they don’t want this soft mushy stuff”

Everybody is a human, regardless of the industry. Engineers and lawyers are just as susceptible to wanting to be listened to, respected, and understood just like anybody else.  Although it may seem like expertise is the biggest element in a buying decision, it’s really all about bonding with another human that is the major influencer.

“That’s too risky: If it doesn’t work, I might lose potential leads”

Fair point. But, consider this: There are two types of risk:

  • The risk of doing the wrong thing and being paralyzed into not changing out of fear, yet expecting different results from the same behavior;
  • The risk of not doing the thing right, but at least there is a chance that it may work for you.

We are all terrified of doing the wrong thing, but if you do nothing, you guarantee the risk of not doing the right thing. Say if trust-based selling works out for you? Trying a new process and getting it wrong is much more valuable than not trying it at all.

Have you used trust-based selling techniques at a trade show before? Share your experiences in the comments below.

If you would like to learn more about data capture and how to use a data capture app at events, check out QuickTapSurvey.